May Day has been a historic day for the labor movement for decades. It commemorates our long fight for worker rights, from raising workplace standards to fighting for a fair wage and the right to unionize. It’s a reminder of what we’ve accomplished and what’s still left to do to ensure equal treatment for all workers.
I know the value of worker rights personally: I came to the United States in 1980 fleeing a dictator and began working low wage jobs in the service industry. As a young mother working to provide for my family, I came into leadership of my union at a time when immigrants and workers’ rights were unspeakable words in Orange County.
In my decades fighting for working people, I have experienced first-hand that our communities and our economy are strongest when our workers are unionized. In Southern California, a union worker on average makes $5,800 more than a non-union worker and is 37 percent more likely to have health insurance than a non-union worker. It’s further proof that one of the best protections against poverty is a strong union job.
And this message is getting through: we saw a worker movement erupt across our nation in the last year with a record number of strikes, the highest since 1986. Workers in Orange County channeled that energy, picked up a clipboard, and helped build a blue wave that changed the face of the county. UNITE HERE Local 11 – the union I represent – put everything on the line, including striking to win the largest wage and pension increases in our history for thousands of workers. And we won protections against a sexual assault epidemic by requiring panic buttons in hotels to protect women.
I’ve been on the front lines of the labor movement. I’ve watched dishwashers, cooks and room attendants take to the streets and use their collective voice to demand change. Their success is evidence that when we speak with one voice we can accomplish our goals and deliver real results for our communities — from a wage increase, to healthcare coverage, to pension plans.
While these are great victories, we still have work to do. The labor movement understands that our effort to empower workers is intersectional because worker rights are women’s rights, worker rights are immigrants’ rights, and worker rights are LGBTQ rights.
No one knows this better than women: 40 percent of women are now the primary breadwinners for their families, but most still take on the majority of childcare, housework, and often care for an aging parent. As more women balance work and family, they need policies that support them and give them the flexibility to succeed. A historic number of women were swept into office in 2018 and they got there because they stood up for working families.
Today, as we recognize the labor movement, we must also think about its future and that is unionizing more workers. As a community, we must come together to support workers and ensure they have a voice on the job. The only way we level the playing field with these multimillion-dollar corporations is by demanding that workers have the right to unionize.
Ada Briceño is the co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11.
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